By KELLY GILFILLAN
On Sept. 1, 2009, my partner, Susan Leathers, and I launched our first website, BrentwoodHomePage.com. Within a week, we had covered school openings, government meetings, football games and a bank robbery.
As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of Home Page Media Group, formerly BrentWord Communications, I want to look back on all that we’ve accomplished.
In some ways, it flew by, but when I look at the challenges and roadblocks we overcame, I’m just darn proud. Half of the life of the business, I was leading the team without Susan as she left the company in 2014 — but her passion for Brentwood and the county stayed with me and the editorial team. Our vision came to fruition and beyond. We always wanted to expand and grow: I just don’t think we knew how special HPMG would become. We’ve done so much over the past 10 years:
- In 2012, we launched Franklin Home Page
- In 2013, we launched Nolensville Home Page
- In 2014, we launched Spring Hill Home Page
- In 2015, we launched Style Home Page
- In 2016, we launched Bellevue Home Page
- In 2017, we launched Sumner Home Page
- In 2018, we launched Business Williamson
- In 2018, FW Publishing purchased HPMG
Over the next year, we have some plans to celebrate with our readers and our advertisers. We hope you will join us as we look back at what we have accomplished and as we try new things. Over the next four weeks, we’ll have compilations of past content and we’ll rerun important stories we think the readers might enjoy revisiting.
Be on the lookout for a party, of course, an overall new look, some really fun contests and sweepstakes, and most importantly, some longform solutions journalism that we hope will help our readers understand challenges facing our county.
THE STATE OF JOURNALISM
The industry has taken some big hits over the past 10 years, and we have had to evolve, shift, pivot and hang on for dear life. From day one, Susan and I knew we wanted to be credible and independent. Very quickly, we were uncovering stories in our community. We were “everywhere” according to our fans and although some of it was smoke and mirrors, we didn’t get a lot of sleep those first three years.
As media outlets across the country are purchased or closed down, what we do in Williamson County becomes of greater importance. Democracy depends on government leaders being held accountable and that is part of what we do every day. You as citizens of these great cities must be aware of the machinations of your city and county governments. The hope is you read and you become involved in what you find most crucial to your community.
WHAT I AM MOST PROUD OF
The accomplishment I am most proud of in all 10 years (besides surviving being a small business owner) is our first solutions journalism project series about the suicide health hazard at the Natchez Trace Bridge. Our team worked for six months on a four-part series which told the history of the beautiful bridge, shared the grief of a mother who lost her son to suicide at the bridge, shed light on the personal and professional challenges to law enforcement officers who work the cases and finally a fourth story where we laid out potential solutions.
This series was followed by other media in the area and we all learned together that it is possible to report on mental health issues and suicide especially with a balance of compassion and truth telling. This past Wednesday, our former reporter, Brooke Wanser, who bravely took on the assignment, and I were at a press conference at the Natchez Trace Bridge watching the dedication of call boxes by the National Park Service rangers. And although these call boxes will likely save lives, the ultimate goal is building barriers on the bridge to remove the bridge as an option for tragedy.
Watching my friend, Trish Merelo, speak as the spokesperson for all the surviving family members, brought it all home for those in attendance. I was proud of her. I was proud of Brooke, former editor Mark Cook, Rachael Long, Alexander Willis and Amanda Haggard for having the guts to tell this story. We all knew what we were doing was the right thing, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t without worry, some fear and a heavy heart. Our team was recognized at the event by U.S. Rep. Mark Green for leading the way in providing balanced coverage. We may be small, but stories like this show that we can be mighty.
In addition to this series, we have done some other pretty cool stuff.
- Susan and I covered the heck out of the 2010 flooding, which put us on the map with readers. It showed that being local does make a difference as we worked with police to get warnings and road closings out. It was thrilling and rewarding.
- Emily West did an important series on the decline in farmland in Williamson County.
- We sent reporter, Jessica Pace, to Maine to follow the search for a Brentwood woman who went missing on the Appalachian Trail.
- We did a highlight on the 10th anniversary of a major bank robbery in Brentwood where two police officers were gravely wounded, but both recovered and thrived.
- Emily also did a series on the rise of whiskey distilling in Williamson County.
- One of the very first highly read stories was a collaborative effort with readers on what we would dream for Turner Farm to become.
While all of that was dynamic and fun for reporters, it is the daily news grind that is at the heart of what we do at the Home Pages. Showing up, as business coaches say, is what we do day after day. You will see our reporters any given day covering the city commission, county commission or alderman meeting, a girls soccer game, a chamber meeting, a restaurant opening, five football games, quarterly earnings reports, a large land sale and, well, a lot more.
I didn’t come to this business as a journalist. I was a writer, but my background was marketing and sales. I have grown to admire and appreciate the critical role of journalism and the high value it provides our community. It is a special person — and they aren’t easy to find — who truly wants to sit at a government meeting and tell the stories behind the scenes.
It takes a dedicated person to stay up until 2 a.m. every Friday night so that our football game stories are there for our readers at 4 a.m. Saturday morning when our email newsletter goes out. And it takes a very special person to focus all day on editing an enormous amount of copy every single day. Think about that for just a minute, our editors proof four reporters worth of copy, post it all in the proper order, run press releases, post obituaries and then get out the newsletter twice every day.
First, of course, I thank Susan Leathers for being a great partner and friend. Thank you to the editors, assistant editors and sports editors that followed Susan, without whom I could never have succeeded, which includes Jim East, Mark Cook, Amanda Haggard, Carol Stuart, Sam McGaw, Cory Woodroof, Stuart Ervin, Allison Maloney and Rebekah Jones.
Thank you to all the reporters: Charles Pulliam, Sarah Kingsbury, Kerri Bartlett, Jessica Pace, Jonathan Romeo, Richel Albright, Emily Kubis, Greg Jinkerson, Michael, Emily West, Brooke Wanser, Landon Woodroof, Matt Blois, John McBryde, Alexander Willis, Rachael Long, A.J. Dugger, Chris Ladd, Shea Drake, Ashley Coker, Chelsea Blackburn, Sarah Grace Taylor, Cliff Hightower and our latest addition, Matt Masters.
Thank you to advisory board members who kept us steady with their sage advice and constant support: Randy Lee, Devin McClendon, Deb Phillips, Marshall Martin, Robert Collins, Sam Whitson, Sarah Kingsbury, Dottie Pope, Arnelle Adcock, Jim East.
Thank you to the advertisers without whom we could not do this. There are many to name and in upcoming content we will highlight their role in our success. And, of course, the sales team members who work diligently to provide the best service and best products to our customers.
Thank you to Sue Falls who has been a stalwart of support and success leading the sales team to new heights over nine years. Other team members included Debbie DeBoer, Brandi Nash, Lana Reed, Debbie Hill, Tuesday Sligh, Vannie Morrisey, Dean Moyer, JJ Pope, Elaine Allen, Jason Hollingsworth and Tanya Adams.
Thank you to Bill Freeman and the late Jimmy Webb for believing in Home Page Media Group enough to invest in the future of the company. HPMG’s new home at FW Publishing has provided an exciting collaborative atmosphere for our team and we are grateful.
Lastly, my family. Thank you to my three daughters for their unwavering support of their mom and for telling me many times how proud they are of me. All four of my parents, my siblings and my best friends have been a lighthouse in the storm some days and patted me on the back when things went right. Here’s to many more years of success!